Top 10 Action Movies You’ve Never Seen
Top 10 Action Movies You’ve Never Seen

“Almost every job I do ends the exact same way. Some whimper. Some cry. Some even laugh. But in the end, they all do the same horizontal mambo, twitching and thrusting their way into the great beyond.”

– Remy, “Repo Men” (2010)

 
 

The action genre used to include few things other than war pictures, Westerns, and the odd racing movie. Leading up to the ‘80s, action was seen most popularly in hybrids, which mixed crime dramas, thrillers, heist movies, and comedies into the adventure (James Bond’s endeavors were also initially combinations of political thrillers and spy films, before soon adding so much comic relief that they became something else entirely). During this period, the buddy cop action/comedy subgenre became particularly fashionable, with entries like “Beverly Hills Cop,” “48 Hrs.,” “Lethal Weapon,” and many more fueling sequels and franchises. Meanwhile, “Raiders of the Lost Ark” in 1981 took the excitement of matinee serials and combined them with spectacular stunts, the supernatural, and treasure-hunting. But even this became a highlight of yet another blend of genres: the action/adventure film.

It wasn’t until actors like Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sylvester Stallone, and Bruce Willis took the stage that the action genre began to take an entirely new form. For the first time, action could be all by itself, free from other components (though further experimentations throughout the ‘80s would find plenty of fresh genres incorporated into established premises, including science-fiction [such as “The Terminator”] and even horror [such as “Aliens”]). Enormous explosions (of all sorts of things, whether combustible or not), various vehicle chases, reckless stunts, collateral damage, over-the-top violence, an overabundance of slow-motion, and the egregious destruction of property were soon staples of the standalone action genre, wherein other elements – perhaps most inseparably, adventure – could be virtually absent. Productions like “Commando,” “Die Hard,” and Hong Kong’s “Hard Boiled” were so focused on action sequences that they contained little else, yet still managed to be thoroughly entertaining. These projects led to zanier releases, which more shamelessly embraced action at the expense of other useful ingredients (such as storylines), including “Crank,” “The Expendables,” and the “Mission: Impossible” series.

Below is a list of the actioners that fell through the cracks – the ones you’ve never seen. They aren’t better than the famous titles that everyone has heard about or embraced, but they’re excellent choices for the action junkie who just can’t get enough. These are primarily action-for-the-sake-of-action undertakings, with either only wisps of other genres peeking through the mayhem, or nothing but the essentials: shootouts, showdowns, and stuff blowing up.

 

10. Nemesis (1992)

This one definitely has sci-fi pieces stitched into the nonsensical, futuristic plot, but they’re so loosely involved that they never interfere with the action scenes. Albert Pyun’s film, which would prove popular enough (or, as a producer, maybe he just liked it himself too much) to warrant numerous straight-to-video sequels, borrows liberally from “The Terminator” and “Robocop,” but contains even more sequences of combat. Interestingly, Pyun clearly admires the human form, as his cast appears to contain predominantly musclebound men and women; from “Nemesis 2: Nebula” through “Nemesis 5: The New Model,” he would resort to a professional bodybuilder as his star – a woman who spends so much of the time naked, and whose physique is so bulgingly brawny, that “Nemesis 4: Death Angel” would receive an MPAA R-rating for “bizarre sexuality.”

9. Redline (1998)

About as obscure as they come, “Redline” features notes of sci-fi, political conspiracies, and an aging Rutger Hauer shooting up the scenery. This, alongside “Split Second,” are two of his least-known yet uncommonly entertaining works, in which he totes heavy weaponry, spouts snappy one-liners, and manages never to change his facial expression. When the gunfights aren’t ensuing, women box topless or attempt to have sex with Hauer while he’s wrapped up tightly in a black trench coat. Plus, the abuse of slow-motion is nothing short of breathtaking; characters seem to ignore gravity just so they can fall backwards, plunge from high places, tumble down staircases, or crash into various pieces of glass furniture – strategically placed around the rooms of their demises. Part of this film’s obscurity comes from its numerous titles, each trying to capitalize on shifting interests at the box office – from “Deathline” to “Reincarnation” to “Beyond Life” to “Armageddon” to “The Syndicate.”

8. Raw Justice (1994)

Loaded with unintentional humor as well as completely failed humor, “Raw Justice” boasts decent action, tongue-in-cheek crime-fighting (complete with cross-dressing, because that always fools the crooks), cheesy retorts after nearly every line of dialogue, and rubber crocodiles. It also features a young Pamela Anderson as a hooker with a heart of … well, a hooker, anyway, who isn’t afraid to show off her goods. None of the actors take this movie seriously, which gives it its charm – including Charles Napier and Stacy Keach. Like other’s on this list, its unheard-of nature can be attributed in part to its wealth of alternate titles, such as “Skip-Tracer,” “Good Cop Bad Cop,” “Strip Girl,” and “Triple Inferno.”

7. Shooter (2007)

Mark Wahlberg has always seemed more fitting in crime dramas or buddy cop comedies, particularly when he plays the heavy, opposite a full-on comedian like Will Ferrell. Nevertheless, this overlooked actioner from 2007 features quite a bit of action, some nice sniping moments (perhaps superior even to war films known for their tense scenes of long-range sharpshooting), and a very satisfying – yet unrealistic – finale. Helmed by Antoine Fuqua (“The Replacement Killers,” “Training Day,” “Tears of the Sun”), “Shooter” also stars Michael Pena, Danny Glover, Kate Mara, Rhona Mitra, and Ned Beatty in supporting roles.

6. Raw Deal (1986)

“You should not drink and bake.” Maybe it’s not Schwarzenegger’s greatest line, but he’s still his typical, one-man-army juggernaut in “Raw Deal,” a small but fun flick that frequently gets pushed aside for his more famous slam-bang thrillers. Involving the infiltration of a drug syndicate and an enforcer played by the always-intimidating Robert Davi, Arnold stampedes through enemies and scenery alike, immune to just about everything thrown his way. Hilariously, the bulky Austrian is given a love interest during his undercover operation, but it goes nowhere, as he maintains an uncommon faithfulness to his wife – all but forgotten back home, where she’s undoubtedly continuing to bake.

5. Operation Condor (1991)

Confusingly, “Operation Condor” is actually a sequel to “Armour of God” (which was imported to the U.S. afterward and renamed “Operation Condor 2”). But despite the fact that it’s a very, very loose follow-up, it’s still one of Jackie Chan’s most amusing works, and a clear derivation of Indiana Jones’ adventures. Here, he’s paired up with not one, not two, but three attractive young female sidekicks, who occasionally complement the creative fight scenes, but also get in the way of Chan’s fists of fury. The Hong Kong martial artist has rarely been better in fusing humor with kung fu, culminating in a wind tunnel skirmish that tops many of his previous impromptu battlegrounds.

4. Hard Justice (1996)

David Bradley might be one of the most unknown action stars of the ‘90s, debuting in the leading role in “American Ninja 3: Blood Hunt” – a series that was itself so undistinguished that the first two entries starred Michael Dudikoff (another Z-grade tough-guy). Bradley went on to star in “American Samurai,” “Cyborg Cop II,” and two more “American Ninja” films, but none of his projects could top “Hard Justice,” which finds the macho man sneaking into a maximum security prison to uncover the murderer of a good friend. Once inside, he’s subjected to an inordinate amount of corruption, nonstop action, and an impressive body count.

3. Stone Cold (1991)

Opening much the same way that Sylvester Stallone’s “Cobra” did, “Stone Cold” unleashes havoc in a supermarket, requiring quite the cleanup on Aisle 4. Later, audiences are treated to Lance Henriksen as a merciless biker gang leader, appropriately named Chains, who hams it up, all while footballer-cum-action-star Brian Bosworth plows through thugs as if they were an amateur defensive line. Essentially, all of Bosworth’s films are obscure, but at least “Stone Cold” is better than “One Tough Bastard,” “Virus,” “Back in Business,” “Mach 2,” and “The Operative.”

2. Equilibrium (2002)

More popular than Christian Bale’s “Mio in the Land of Faraway,” but less known than “Reign of Fire,” “Equilibrium” was writer/director Kurt Wimmer’s shot at becoming a Hollywood player. Sadly, he completely crushed his chances at success with his next picture, “Ultraviolet,” in 2006, which showcased Milla Jovovich’s incredible abs and Wimmer’s extreme deficiencies in storytelling. But “Equilibrium,” an obvious take on “Nineteen Eighty-Four,” possesses some genuinely affecting moments, a superb supporting cast (including Sean Bean and Emily Watson), and a brand new form of martial arts: gunkata, which is kung fu but with shooting weapons – contributing to fight scenes that must be seen to be believed. And they’re entirely convincing, even when Taye Diggs’ villain loses his face (literally, just his face) to a smooth riposte with a razor-sharp ceremonial sword.

1. Soldier (1998)

Kurt Russell may have had several starring turns in Disney films as a child actor, but he also has his fair share of action hero personas, beginning with John Carpenter’s unequalled B-movie schlock-fest “Escape From New York,” which gave the world Snake Plissken – a one-eyed brawler with a distinct lack of respect for the authorities. “Big Trouble in Little China” followed, as well as the more straightforward actioners “Tango & Cash,” “Executive Decision,” and “Breakdown.” “Soldier,” however, would be a highlight in Russell’s macho-man career, sporting a script by David Webb Peoples (“Blade Runner,” “Unforgiven,” and “Twelve Monkeys,” among many others), antagonists in the form of Gary Busey and Jason Scott Lee, and a sci-fi plot that takes powerful components of “Solo,” “Universal Soldier,” and “Predator” and morphs them into a wholly entertaining, perfectly serious, high-octane epic – full of big guns and bigger muscles. This one definitely packs a punch.

 

Runners-up: “Maximum Risk,” “The Substitute,” “Terminal Velocity,” “Only the Strong,” “Assassins,” “The Last Boy Scout,” “Dollman,” “Timecop.”

– Mike Massie